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The new action comedy "Furious 7" is full of scenes that beg to be described as a fifth-grader would, as "that one part." For instance, that one part where Dom and Brian drive a supercar out of one building and it flies through the air and lands into another building. Or that one part where Dom plays chicken with bad guy Jason Statham and they smash their cars (and then, later, when the same thing happens again). Or that one part where Brian has to run up the side of a bus as it slides off a cliff, or that one part where — gah, at this point it's all a blur of overhead muscle-car shots on winding mountain passes and ill-advised close-ups of Vin Diesel squinting, with the smell of scorched rubber hanging in the air. For a movie that's supposedly for-fun, this one feels like too much work to keep up with.
Did we even need this, the seventh installment in the "Fast and Furious" series? Fans said yes, and then some. This past weekend they made it the ninth-biggest opening in the history of American movies, and worldwide the film made almost $400 million. Those are Harry Potter or Star Wars numbers, preposterous totals, and a testament not only to how enduring the formula is (fast cars, big heists, bonkers stunt pieces, occasional '90s music video slow-mo shots of ladies in tiny swimwear at parties and beaches and street races), but to how much of a hoot these movies have been. The last three in particular have been the best kind of cinematic circus. This one should have matched it; instead, for whatever reason, it just feels like going through the fast motions, furiously.
Maybe the production couldn't quite overcome the loss, halfway through shooting, of star Paul Walker, who died in an unrelated car crash in November 2013. His brothers and a heap of digital effects stepped in to fill the void. I challenge you to pinpoint with certainty which scenes were shot with the real Brian and which were drawn in later. (With the exception of the last dewy-eyed scene, an oddly touching sendoff to the late actor.) The rest of the usual gang is back: Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez (still looking for her memory). Nathalie Emmanuel pops up as a bad-ass hacker and reminds you by association that it's almost time for "Game of Thrones" to return. Kurt Russell is here to work for the government and to give instructions to Dom about the things that need to happen for there to be a movie. Then everyone drives custom hot rods out of a plane over Azerbaijan. The usual.
Director James Wan mostly has been writing "Saw" movies and directing big-budget horror for the past several years, and his touch here fits with the spirit of the predecessors: couple of scenes of clunky, soapy dialogue about feelings and such, followed not too distantly by men swinging giant wrenches at one another. Statham makes a passable bad guy (why doesn't he play villains more often, anyway?) but still does the sort of inane bad-guy stuff that makes you tilt your head slightly and wonder obvious things. Why, for instance, when he has the drop on Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. the Rock, a 6-foot-5 former pro wrestler who could probably play Godzilla with only a decent mask, does he basically elect to brawl with him rather than, like, shoot him? Why wouldn't Dom do as much later when he has the chance? Why isn't this movie more enjoyable?
Are we simply over-thinking this? And when, already, is the next "Mad Max" landing?